Category Archives: Ceramics

Tired of Traditional Wedging?

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I hate wedging.  There I said it.  My name is Jean, and I hate wedging.  I have no upper body strength.  I don’t have a wedging table that is the correct height for me.  And I don’t like spending my spare time wedging.  Earlier this year one of my ceramic students came upon this video that showed him how to “Slam and Stack Wire Wedge”.  He said it would be easier for me, but of course, I didn’t believe him.  And, well, it seemed like a lot of work…I would have to have him teach me and set up a make shift wire cutting station.  I was very busy. (Yeah, I wasn’t busy, I was just lazy and wanted him to do all the grunt work for me.)

I finally told him that if he would make a tutorial video for me, I would watch it over the summer and use it next year.  He said okay.  Then, about a week ago, a video appeared on a Facebook group, Clay Buddies, showing exactly what my student had been talking about. The method looked easy enough, so I thought I would try it out.

So, I had my student take some our reclaim and spread it out onto our plaster wedging table to dry out some.  We left it overnight, and the next morning, he set up the make-shift wire cutting station for me.

Game on.  We cut the clay into 4 “smaller” sections, so it was easier to work with.  I took 2 pieces and slammed them together 4 times, flipping over each time.  Next I cut the “new” piece in half with the wire cutter.  Then I put the 2 pieces on top of each other and slammed again 4 times, flipping over each time.  Wash, rinse, repeat for 30 times.

The result?  My clay is wedged.  My students can get back to hand-building.  My arms aren’t so tired.  I am a little sweaty, but I did get a lot of frustration out with all that clay slamming.  And, it saved me so much time.  I call this a win.

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The clay after 30 stacks and slams. You can see it is uniform and ready to be used.

Does this mean I don’t have to wedge traditionally anymore?  Yes.  Of course I will wedge my clay before I throw, and of course my students will wedge before they throw.  But, that will be smaller quantities. This is good for all that clay I have in my reclaim buckets.  Now I have 2 methods to help me with all that “old” and reclaimed clay I have just cluttering up my classroom and kiln room.  (Other method for larger blocks of clay.)

Here is the “Stack and Slam Wire Wedging with Michael Wendt” video:  

What to do with all that dry clay

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I have been teaching ceramics classes for about 4 years now.  And before that I taught sculpture classes and we would always have at least 2 projects with clay during those classes.  Now, as students work, clay dries out and because “unusable” for awhile.  Clay dries out because as you work with it, you hands and the air take out the moisture, kids build things that they don’t want or need, they fail to wrap up their pieces correctly and instead of trying to work with it, they move on, or they rip holes in the bags that hold the clay.  So, due to all of these reasons, I have a ton of extra clay.  Seriously…it is just so.much.clay.

Normally, I reconstitute my clay by putting the pieces in a 5 gallon bucket and then fill the bucket with water.  Eventually the clay softens and becomes slurry-like.  From there, I pull some out, put it on a plaster bat, and let it dry enough so I can wedge the clay back into a usable form for my students.  Quite frankly, this is a pain in the ass.  I hate wedging with a passion.  It reminds me how weak and out of shape I am.  Not to mention it is time consuming.

Recently it was brought to my attention that our district has a grant program.  I thought great, I can apply for a grant, talk to the principal to see if the district will help with the cost, and add in the money that ceramics club has raised, and with all that I can purchase a pugmill to help me on my “mission” to get all this dried clay usable again.  I asked a group of potters on a Facebook group I am part of for a pugmill recommendation.  That is when a woman told me this method of reconstituting I had never heard of.

She told me to put no more than 2 cups of water into the bag with the dried out clay.  Next put the clay bag in a big bucket–like a 5 gallon one, and fill the bucket with water until the bag of clay is covered.  Finally, let it sit for a week or so.  The theory is the pressure from the water outside of the bag will push the water in the bag back into the clay and soften the clay so it can be used again.  I’m gonna be honest here, I was a little skeptical.  But, I did it anyway.  P1080085

Well, after about 5 days I checked the bucket.  Almost all of the water I had put into the bag was gone…it had soaked into the clay.  I took the bag out of the bucket and opened to see what the clay felt like.  It was a little slimy on the outside, but the clay it self was wet all the way through.  It was as if it was brand new from the store.  And bonus, because this was a bag of clay that was solid and not a bunch of pieces left over, I don’t have to wedge it.  I was able to re-bag it and put it with the other clay for my students to use.IMAG5300

I am so excited that this worked.  I went through all my clay and pulled all the bags where the clay was one big giant block like this and put them aside.  I loaded up my bucket with a new block and water, and in a week I hope to have another bag ready to go.  I still have the other buckets with scraps the kids create, and that will have to wedged, but this new method will really help me out, and I can save the ceramic club’s money for something more fun for us to use it on.

A Great TASK to Help Start the New Year

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A Great TASK to Help Start the New Year

Today was the start of a new semester at school.  I thought we needed to start off with a great activity–one that would shake off the slumber of winter break and ring in creativity and imagination for a new year.  And what better way to do so than have a day-long TASK party.

What is a TASK party you ask?

You can also find a previous post on TASK here.

I pulled out a bunch of supplies I had in my storage room:  yarn, egg cartons, craft items, fabric, 12″ dowels, wooden hearts and starts, buttons.  I plugged in all the hot glue guns we had.  I grabbed the large rolls of colored paper from the faculty lounge.  And, I started with a container full of tasks.

This party was to last all day.  I have 7 classes.  Once I started the party, I only broke for lunch, which consisted of writing more tasks.  This was the only place the students faltered…well, and when it came to blindly picking a task.  (Many wanted to pick and choose their task.  It was hard to stop them.)

It really was a fun day.  A few kids fought it at first, but ended up having a good time.  I think they need that time to play.  High school kids don’t often get that anymore.  And bonus, no one was on their computer today.  I wish I knew how many tasks were completed today…or at least attempted.   It would be fun to figure it out.  Perhaps next time.

By the end of the day, my feet were killing me and I was tired as all hell.  But, I had a counter full of artifacts.  I had a hopscotch board on my floor, and I had 2 body outlines–one in dry erase marker and one in tape.  (Just an FYI–certain dry erase markers don’t come off the floor so easily.)  I had a roll full of photos of the students making and laughing and creating and smiling.  I had a heart full of memories. And, I think it set the tone that creativity is welcome here–and encouraged.

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Choice and the Ceramic Classroom

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As you may know, I have changed the majority of my classes to a TAB/Choice-Based classroom.  And, I love it.  The work is authentic and I feel students are really learning and creating something they are invested in, rather than just going through the motions.

Well, how do I do that in a ceramics class?  That has been an internal issue I have.  I want to bring choice to them, but felt that I couldn’t just jump in.

I did with my intermediate and advanced class, but they are really my guinnie pigs.  I have told them as much too.  There are only 6 kids total in those 2 classes, and 4 of them took beginning ceramics last year. But it was only for a semester, so in reality, they are technically beginners.  It’s a long story.  Anyway, they know the basics and are just given themes to work with.

That is my plan for beginning ceramics…to eventually bring a theme for them to interpret how they see fit and to choose the best building method to carry it out.  But first, I felt they really did need to have some basics.  They needed to learn how to use slabs, how to coil, how to score and use slip.  From there, then they could explore further.

I know many are ready to break free, even though we haven’t covered coil yet.  But, am I ready for them to break free?  There will be some things I will show them as we go along–engobes, slip casting, mold making, the potter’s wheel.

Can I really treat my ceramics class in a similar fashion?  Can I just show them a demo, record it, and have them refer to it later if need be?  Will that be enough? Can they just have a theme to interpret and explore?  I guess after the coil lesson, we will find out.

Ceramic Spheres

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My beginning ceramics students are slowly learning the basics of hand-building in hopes that soon I can let them enter a more choice-based atmosphere.  One of the basics we learned was the pinchpot.  In Art 1, my students create pinchpot monsters.  I wanted to do more than that in beginning ceramics class.  I also wanted them to continue to practice carving, which we had done in the previous unit, carved slabs.

Students created 2 pinchpots and scored/slipped them together to form a sphere-like shape.  After letting it firm up some, they were to carve, incise, and/or cut into their sphere.

Some kids spent a lot of time figuring out their designs.  Other just went for it.  Two kids added to their sphere.  But, they all learned a lot about thinking in the round and time spent in the air.  A couple commented that their carving got better, even though it was much harder to carve a round surface than it was the flat surface.

The last thing we did was glaze them.  For this I had them choose from the test tiles they had created.  They could choose from their samples or from any sample from the other students.  Luckily they all took good notes.

Here are some of the results.

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Clay Slab Tiles

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Beginning ceramic students learned all about rolling out slabs when making their clay boxes.  So, I thought I would use the slab to let them experiment carving.  They all rolled out and cut 6″X6″ tiles.  From there they were given the “rules”.  They needed to have a minimum of 4 levels.  How that was achieved was up to them.  They were shown this Pinterest board for some examples.  They had to have a frame…again, they decided what constituted a frame.  And, one element had to break said frame.

And go.  As usual, I have a few kids that can just jump in and go for it…and get great results.  Others carefully planned and revised their designs.  I had one student wind up at our alternative center and had to work on her tile without help from me or others…she did a fabulous job.

Once they were finished, I had decided this was a great project to show them a non-glaze surface technique.  I had seen pieces done on my Facebook Art Teachers group and thought the oil pastel tempera resist would be perfect for them.  First they color the tiles with oil pastels.  I tell them to color darkly, but not to color fully.  Where ever there were holidays, the tempera would soak into the ceramic. Next they covered the entire piece with tempera.  On my example I had watered it down.  I didn’t have them do that, and they turned out just fine.  After that they held the tiles under a running stream from the faucet.  I reminded them just to let the water wash over it and not to scrub.  The water would rinse away all the tempera where they had colored with the oil pastels.  Many were nervous and seemed as if they didn’t believe me.  I love their faces when they finally saw the amazing result.  As a last step, I had them spray with a spray gloss to seal the piece.

They were super happy with their tiles.  I don’t think they ever would have though to do anything like this.  A few of them are in painting and drawing with the other art teacher and the connected what we did with the resist to a similar project they did on paper with tempera and ink.  Love when they can do that.

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Ceramic Slab Boxes

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Our first big unit in beginning ceramics class was to build a slab box that had texture, a lid, a handle, and a few added embellishments.  A fellow ceramics teacher, Jen,  was kind enough to share her lesson.  I tried it out for the first time last year.  I thought the kids did well, so I did it again this year.  I think it is a good intro to the hand-building technique of the slab.  Also, it brought in texture, a favorite aspect of mine, by use of texture rollers, adding a usable handle, and adding embellishments.

The students learned a lot about slabs.  The state of leatherhard is one they all know now.  Some really did understand the state, while other just never got there and didn’t heed advice to cover the slabs they weren’t working on at the moment, thus letting things dry out too much to use.  A couple kids did find out that you can mist way too much.

But, I did hear good conversation about using the stilts (in our case made of paint stirrers) to help keep slabs even, how much pressure to use when using texture rollers, and reminders to put in reinforcing coils.

I am pleased with the results of the boxes, even though more than one handle was either not scored/slipped right or was too fragile and broke off–unfortunately, usually by me.

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For the surface treatment, I wanted them to learn a technique that would enhance the texture created by the texture rollers.  I asked them to choose 2 glaze colors–a dark and a light.  They learned how to pour in a glaze and roll it around to cover the interior of the box.  They did this with the dark.  After that, they used the dark to brush into the texture.  Once dry, they washed off the excess leaving the color in the recesses (and as a slight stain on the flat surfaces.)  Then they brushed on the lighter color to the outside of the box, going over everything–including the dark in the texture.  The theory is that the dark will show through the light, creating an interesting surface with a bit of depth.

Not everyone followed instructions, and that is okay.  But, the ones that did created some wonderful looking boxes.

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Test Tiles Are Where It’s At

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The last 2 weeks of the marking period are always hard to come up with something meaningful to do–especially in a ceramics class.  It is not enough time to start a new project.  Luckily though, we have been working so hard on building and learning basic building techniques that we can take a break from building and focus on surface treatments.

One thing we are focusing on is creating test tiles.  Beginning students each cut 12 test tiles.  The took 6 of the tiles and left them smooth.  The other 6 were imprinted with a texture stamp.  They labeled one set 1-6A and 1-6B.

Now that they are bisque fired, they are trying different glaze combos.  They are laying 1-3 glazes on each tile.  And, what they do to 1A, they do to 1B so after glaze firing they can see how the texture could possibly effect the glazes and how it breaks, if it breaks at all.

And, of course, they are taking notes on what colors they use and how they apply the glaze.  They are taking notes not only for themselves, but for their peers as well.  The plan with these test tiles is to have the class share tiles so they have many choices.  Maybe someone else created something awesome.  They will glaze their spheres from one of the group of test tiles.

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Rice, Panty Hose, and Soft Molds

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Intermediate and Advanced ceramic students are learning a new technique.  They are learning about hump molds, and in particular soft molds created by using a rice-filled panty hose leg.

I found the idea on pinterest and I followed the link to here. I thought this type of mold would be a wonderful addition to our ceramics studio.  They would provide much versatility and would prove to be much more inexpensive than plaster molds.

Today the boys filled the stocking with rice…40 pounds to be exact.  Tomorrow they begin to lay slabs on them.

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A Student’s Story about Problem Solving

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I wanted to take a moment to brag on one of my ceramic students.  Lately I’ve been talking so much about my art 1 and art 2 classes and how their immersion into TAB has been off the chain.  I feel like I’ve been neglecting my other classes…my ceramic classes.  They do make up half of my class load after all, they should not be looked over.

It has been slow going in the beginning classes as we were waiting for clay and slabs are getting to a working state that isn’t so floppy.  (I have to say I can’t wait until we are past the first project so kids have more than one thing to work on.)

My intermediate/advanced class is creating enlarged organic objects.  I asked them to bring in an organic object, but of course, only one student did.  Luckily I predicted this and found a ton of things for them.  One of the objects was the flower pod from the cactuses here in Texas.  Paul chose that object.

It started out fresh and bulbous and he jumped right in building it 5 times as big.  It was going to be an awesome piece.  However, over the course of the time we’ve been working, the pod began to shrivel as the moisture left.  Neither of us thought of this possibility.  As Paul was close to finishing, I told him if he wanted to just pretend the piece hadn’t shriveled, I was cool with that.  He said ok.

I went about my business and towards the end of class came back to Paul and saw that he had incorporated the shrivels.  His piece looked way more awesome than it did before.  There is now so much more life to his sculpture.  I am so proud of him.  This is his best work to date.  I love that he encountered a problem and instead of getting mad, he ran with it and brought his work to another level.

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